Montana Attorney General Tim Fox and 12 other Republican attorneys general are raising concern about the security of personal data when people are assisted in signing up for subsidized health policies under “Obamacare” this fall.
The 13 attorneys general sent a letter this week to U.S. Health and Human Services Secretary Kathleen Sebelius, saying HHS rules to protect people’s privacy are “woefully inadequate.”
“The federal government’s lackadaisical approach to handling Americans’ private information doesn’t pass muster under any standard, and in particular Montana standards,” Fox said in a statement.
Sebelius said earlier this week that “navigators” hired to advise people how to sign up for the subsidized insurance policies are required to “adhere to strict security and privacy standards.”
The Montana Legislature this year also passed a law requiring navigators to undergo training, become certified by the state, and undergo criminal background checks.
When asked whether Fox thought the state law created adequate protections, Fox spokesman John Barnes said the federal government “bears the ultimate responsibility for protecting consumer privacy in Montana’s insurance exchange.”
The “exchange” is an Internet marketplace where consumers can shop for and buy private health-insurance policies starting Oct.1 – and, if they’re eligible, get federal subsidies to help pay for the policies.
Just this week, HHS awarded grants to scores of private, mostly nonprofit organizations nationwide to hire and train “navigators” whose job is to inform and advise the uninsured on using the exchange to buy health coverage.
In Montana, the grants went to Planned Parenthood of Montana, the Montana Primary Care Association and the Montana Health Network.
Lucas Hamilton, spokesman for state Auditor Monica Lindeen, said Friday her office will have a training protocol and certification procedure for navigators by Sept. 1.
“We’ll be doing all we can to make sure they have adequate training,” he said.
The AGs’ letter comes on the heels of comments from Republicans in Washington, D.C., earlier this week, alleging that citizens’ private information won’t be well-protected when they’re counseled about signing up for policies under the Affordable Care Act.
The seven-page letter outlined what it said are multiple problems with protection of consumers’ privacy.
It said HHS “has no realistic plan to prevent identity theft or to provide recourse to consumers when it inevitably occurs.”
“HHS must understand that it’s not enough to simply adopt vague policies against fraud,” Fox said. “Each person collecting information is being placed in a position of trust and will have access to a wide variety of personal information from consumers.”
An HHS spokesman said Friday that navigators will be trained on how to handle and safeguard consumers’ identifiable information, and subject to civil penalties of up to $25,000 per violation if they violate privacy or security standards.